- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2002

NEW DELHI Violence against India's Christian minority has surged this year, with reports of at least one attack each week in what church leaders are calling a "reign of terror" spreading throughout the country.
In the most recent incident, about 70 men wearing saffron headbands an emblem of the Hindu nationalists attacked a church near Mysore, in South India, where children were attending a catechism class. The attack last week seriously wounded about 20 people.
In other incidents this month:
Two church workers and a teen-age boy were shot at while praying, and the boy was injured.
Two Christian missionaries were beaten with iron rods while bicycling home.
A Christian cemetery in Port Blair on the Andaman Islands was vandalized.
Four of the attacks were in Uttar Pradesh, the North Indian state where counting in local government elections ends today and where the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fared poorly.
Much of the violence against Christians has taken place in states ruled by the BJP, but church leaders say that last year the number of incidents in states like Karnataka, which has a Congress party government, has risen alarmingly.
In the latest and most violent incident in the state, an angry mob wearing saffron headbands, carrying placards and shouting anti-Christian slogans descended on the Holy Family church in Hinkal, a suburb of Mysore, just after Mass last Sunday.
"The children were crying," said Father William, who was protected by his parishioners. "They could see their parents being beaten up, from the windows."
About 20 people were later taken to the hospital.
Describing the incident as unprecedented in a city whose roughly 30,000 Christians have previously had good relations with their Hindu neighbours, Father Nerona, a member of the Diocesan Council, said that he thought the attack had been provoked by a misunderstanding over a round of Christmas carols.
"They said the carols were converting people, but actually the carol singers only went to Catholic homes," he said. "We were terribly shocked. This has always been such a peaceful city."
The recent attacks follow what church leaders call "a false lull," occuring after the international outrage last year over the burning alive of Graham Staines, an Australian missionary, and his two small sons last year.
"Physically, many of the incidents are now less obvious," said John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council. "But there is a 24-hour reign of terror, which occasionally bursts into violence."
Last year the Indian government reported 240 incidents including about 22 murders in the year leading up to 2000, and almost every week newspapers carry an account of a ransacked church, an assaulted or murdered priest or a vandalized cemetery.
Many of the assailants are members of the Bajrang Dal, a militant Hindu nationalist organization linked to the BJP, which has carried out many of the most violent attacks on Christians in India.
Church leaders maintain, however, that all the attacks whether they are carried out by the Bajrang Dal or its fellow Hindu nationalist organizations have the tacit approval of the BJP government.
"The Bajrang Dal are ruffians, but someone must have told them what to do the previous night," said Mr. Dayal.


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